Defendant’s premeditated murder conviction reversed where it cannot be determined from the trial court record whether the jury relied on a legally authorized ground rather than the improper theory of natural and probable consequences. Defendant and a confederate, Bluitt, sought out “Chuckie” to kill him, but ended up killing another person, a 14-year-old boy. Defendant claimed he warned his accomplice prior to the crime that the person killed was not Chuckie. In 1987 defendant was convicted of first degree murder for the killing. The jury found personal use of a gun and personal infliction of great bodily injury enhancements not true. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. Defendant filed a writ petition in 2015 after the California Supreme Court decided that an aider an abettor may be not be convicted of first degree premeditated murder under the natural and probable consequences doctrine (People v. Chiu (2014) 59 Cal.4th 155). Held: Conviction reversed. It is clear that defendant was convicted as an aider and abettor, given the jury’s rejection of the gun use and great bodily injury enhancements. There are two forms of culpability for aiders and abettors: (1) an aider and abettor with the necessary mental state is guilty of the intended crime; and (2) under the natural and probable consequences doctrine, an aider and abettor is guilty not only of the intended crime, but for other offenses which were the natural and probable consequence of the target crime, i.e., which were reasonably foreseeable. Under Chui, the natural and probable consequences doctrine was an improper legal theory in this first degree murder case. The court concluded that the Chapman v. California (1967) 386 U.S. 18, beyond a reasonable doubt standard of prejudice applies on habeas review. Here, it could not be determined whether the jury relied on the incorrect legal theory, requiring reversal.
The limitation on the natural and probable consequences doctrine announced in People v. Chiu applies even where the target offense is premeditated murder. The Attorney General argued that Chiu does not apply where the target offense is premeditated murder because defendant intended to facilitate a deliberate murder, not some lesser offense. However, defendant claimed he only intended to facilitate one specific murder of a particular person, Chuckie. He did not necessarily have the intent to assist in killing a different victim that the perpetrator independently decided to kill. “Bluitt’s independent, intentional, deliberate, and premeditated decision to kill a different victim would reflect a personal and subjective state of mind that was insufficiently connected to petitioner’s culpability for aiding and abetting the (intended) murder of Chuckie to justify holding petitioner liable for Bluitt’s premeditated independent act.”
The natural and probable consequences doctrine was not a proxy for transferred intent in this case. The Attorney General argued that reversal of defendant’s conviction was unnecessary because the natural and probable consequences doctrine was merely a proxy for the doctrine of transferred intent, which applies when the perpetrator intends to kill one victim and unintentionally kills another. Here the deceased was not unintentionally killed during the perpetrator’s attempt to kill Chuckie. The perpetrator intended to kill the deceased even after it was discovered he was not the target victim.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A144572.PDF